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My Affair with Henry and the Photo Shoot that Followed

As the one who’s always behind the camera instead of in front of it, my need for a new, professional portrait crept up on me this year. Charmed by Sarah Beard Buckley Photography‘s beautiful 50 Mainers portraits in Maine Magazine, I craved how she created environmental shots that capture the intersection of sense of place with personal identity. Since my pulse centers on Portland, I wanted to choose from the many scenic or gritty or architecturally fascinating locations. But where? My mind traced the trails and cobblestone streets and wharves until my mental tour arrived at Congress Street and stopped at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s house, the historic home museum of the Maine Historical Society. Yes, I’m talking about an affair with “Henry,” a Maine poet, dead for some 130 odd years now.

I discovered by age ten that “Henry” had seeped into my DNA. On a one-week forced hiatus from school, confined to bed with influenza, I decided to memorize the 88-line poem “Wreck of the Hesperus.”

It was the schooner Hesperus,
      That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
      To bear him company…
Those of you who know this poem know that the skipper probably shouldn’t have brought his little daughter. Things don’t end well for either of them “on the reef of Norman’s Woe.” Nonetheless, I was smitten by the melodrama of the trampling surf, sheeted ghost, bleak sea beach and the salt sea frozen on her breast (you really have to read it, it’s great stuff).
Weeks later, as a fifth grader, I performed the Wreck of the Hesperus in front of the whole school in what today we would call a poetry slam. Bruce Macomber’s intensely talented rendition of Casey at the Bat transported us all to Mudville and put me firmly in second place. (I forgive you now, Bruce).
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Although I lost that competition, my affair with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow continued. My mother, Joan, a compulsive and passionate gardener, belonged to the Longfellow Garden Club, a volunteer non-profit since 1924 that maintained the garden once established by the Longfellow family. She donated hundreds of hours of her time to organize, research, weed, and plant a garden worthy of the house’s history. Before she passed away, she became the Club’s President, a position that honored and intimidated her in equal measure. My personal relationship to that garden deepened when I graduated from the Portland History Docent Program as a docent trained to give tours at the Longfellow House, a volunteer service that I loved.
So, yes, the photo shoot had to use the lovely newly-renovated and rejuvenated garden of the Longfellow House. Thank you, Maine Historical Society, for allowing the photo session and for taking care of this treasure.
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Patricia Pierce Erikson, at the “Children’s Gate” entrance to the Longfellow Garden

Things to do: Residents of Portland visitors alike love to take their bag lunch into the Longfellow Garden or catch some private moments for reading and writing in the lush oasis. On Thursday, August 4, 2016 the Garden will host a poetry reading event.
Written by Patricia Erikson, Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Iterative Writing: How Scott Nash Put Shrunken Treasures into Our Hands

When you’re reading a book, have you ever wondered: how do writers translate their imagination onto a page? I a

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Cover of Scott Nash’s Shrunken Treasures

lways assumed that other writers work like I do by first conjuring, inhabiting, and experiencing a three-dimensional model of a scene in the mind before writing it onto the page. Peaks Island author and illustrator Scott Nash; however, does this iterative draw-write-draw magic that looks to me like a channeling of the subconscious through the hand. That was what I discovered sitting in his living room, asking him about his children’s book that Candlewick Press releases this month-Shrunken Treasures.

The origin story of Shrunken Treasures goes like this: while on a long car ride from Belfast, Maine, Scott and his wife, artist Nancy Gibson Nash, entertained themselves through long hours by condensing Moby Dick into children’s verse. Scott recounts,

“I’ve always loved doing mashups, even before it was trendy. So this was a challenge to mash up classics like Moby Dick and The Odyssey into a children’s poem. When I got home, I sketched out the Ulysses and Captain Ahab characters (see below) and sent off the idea to my editor. My editor is like the benefactor of my nutty ideas. I show up with a pile of sketches and a draft of a novel about bird pirates [referring to his High Flying Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate] and they see the possibilities. This time I presented two sample poems and in iPad full of clunky sketches of the characters in the book. They’re risk takers. It’s lovely.”

That children’s book pitch became the beautiful picture book that I now hold in my hands. Short verses. Lean, yet rich and playful illustrations. I recognize Scott’s

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An inspiration for Shrunken Treasures

nostalgic nod to one of his inspirations, the Big Golden Book of Poetry. My own dog-eared copy of this childhood treasure was cherished for decades and was one of the items that I kept when I had to clean out my parents’ house.

Lucky for us, Scott moved on from sketching Ulysses and Captain Ahab to Mary Shelley (yes, of Frankenstein).

“I draw to inspire the writing and then write to inspire the drawing. When I get stuck with a character or a plot, I stop writing and draw.”

In Scott’s verse, Mary “first made one monster and then that monster made another one [Frankenstein].” Scott comments that, “the book would never have worked if the verse was more free. The classic stories are complex so that keeping the structure familiar helps to simplify the story.”

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A character sketch of Mary Shelley, on Scott Nash’s iPad.

I predict this book will become a new classic and prove popular with multiple generations at once. Two upcoming events will allow you to hold Shrunken Treasures in your hands and seek the author’s autograph:

  • The Cape Author Fest on April 9 at the Cape Elizabeth High School and
  • a book launch event at Longfellow Books on April 14th at 7 PM.

Prepare yourself for literary frolic.

Written by Patricia Erikson, Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

 

 

Return of Stone Boat Poetry

LongIslandBoat“We’re back for a new season of reading poetry! Our Peaks Island community poetry reading is reaching out to strengthen and generate fresh interest. Readers, writers, and appreciaters are welcome to attend this renewal.

Stone Boat Open Poetry Reading on Peaks Island. Tuesday, May 5, at 6:30 pm at the pump house (at the top of Elizabeth St.)

Featuring guest poet: Kristin Mathis. Kristin is a poet living in Brunswick, whose work has appeared in The Maine Review, Non-Binary Review, Mom Egg Journal, Literary Mama, Cafe Review, The Commonline Journal and other venues. Her work is uncompromising, with an edge, and plenty of literary strength to bring it all home with authority.

As always, we will have an open reading, so bring a poem of your own work or another’s to read, or come just to listen, that’s fine too. 

Islanders: please bring food! and/ or something to drink. (but if you don’t have something to bring, please come anyway. The words and voices are what we want the most.)” -Jesse Mantsch

Please read more, comment, and question at: facebook.com/stoneboatpoetry

Written by Patricia Erikson, Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Chasing Muse: Finding the “Wild, Silky Part of Ourselves”

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Reaching the summit in the Saddleback Mountain Challenge. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

People pay good money to chairlift up a mountain in civilized fashion and then ski down for pleasure. I just paid to snowshoe straight up 2000 feet in single-digit temperatures to brave a gnarly descent. But, then, I’m not a mountaineer, I’m an island writer chasing a muse.

When I shuffled to the starting line of the Saddleback Mountain Challenge an hour earlier, racers appeared in a motley assemblage of equipment that reflected their strategy. Most wore Randonee skis adorned with “skins” that could be removed at the peak, allowing a rapid descent. A few people wore snowshoes with a snowboard strapped to their back; their descent would be swooping, graceful. One man wore two halves of a snowboard strapped to his feet, halves that would be reunited, presumably, once he achieved the peak. And then came the smartypants distance runner — one of two women in the pack and the only one outfitted with just snowshoes to wear, both up and down — that’s me. Halfway up the mountain, I reconsider the wisdom of entering this challenge; wind-driven ice cements to my hair and face, and bounces off my fingers, bare and hot from exertion. What was I thinking?

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Brown hair turned white in Arctic conditions. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

Reaching the peak, I pass a number of racers who stop to switch their fancy gear to downhill mode. One-two-three of them. I wonder: do they admire my strategy of using the same gear for the entire race? Nah.

I yank on my coat and gloves, pull up my face guard, and lumber onto the mountain’s shoulder. My left ear loses feeling to the flesh-freezing wind, no doubt casting me even more as the Bride of Yeti. Then I reach a point where the race route narrows to a two-foot wide shelf, little more than the ridge of a snowdrift. As if on cue, I stumble onto the precipice. A normal audience would gasp as my center of gravity plunges over and back from the edge, but the ski patrol sentry quips, “Nice catch.” That’s high praise up here.

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Running across the peak on snowshoes. Photo courtesy Saddleback Mountain.

Finally, I stand alone at the top of the designated downhill route, a narrow chute. It’s name: Muleskinner. I try not to take the name literally or conjure images of how it might apply to me. But, if this route were a highway, the sign would flash orange neon letters “Go back, 50-60% grade.”

Given the promised first-place prizes of season ski passes for the winning man and woman, the racers ahead of me are pushing hard; I just want to survive. Avoiding last place would be a bonus. Descent on snowshoes: my strategy faces a crisis. Facing this downhill reminds me of facing a blank page, or worse yet, a manuscript with extensive need of editing. I don’t want to do it. What am I afraid of? Falling? Getting lost in a snowbank? Those rank as givens today. I decide I’m most afraid of not finishing. I abandon all pretense of sanity and step over the edge, on purpose this time.

To my shock, the deep, fresh powder has been scoured away by wind, leaving porcelain-smooth white ice disguised as snow. My snowshoes respond by rocketing downhill, spinning me sideways. There is nothing to grab, nothing to stop me. Channeling my five year-old self, I sit down hard and push my snowshoes out in front of me. With buttocks serving as my snow-tubing device, I shoot straight down Muleskinner, stopping in an explosion of deep powder. Able to stand again, I run downhill until hitting another porcelain plate of ice. Repeat the sit and slide until powder impact. Stand and run. Midway down Muleskinner, a couple of the guys that I had passed on the peak, pass me–one of them with graceful swooshes, the other guy resembling a human snowball.

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Reaching the finish line. Photo courtesy of Saddleback Mountain.

Why am I doing this? It wasn’t until after I crossed the finishing line (looking indeed like the Bride of Yeti), after I had driven back to Portland and reached home by ferry, that I read Mary Oliver. Only then did I find words for what I was doing on Saddleback Mountain–I was taking care of the “wild, silky part of ourselves without which no poem [and, I would add, no writing] can exist.” Oliver describes this inner muse as a “mysterious, unmapped zone” that “comes before everything, even technique.” She warns that “It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime.”

This is what I fear more than Muleskinner. That silence within.

In “Wild Geese” Oliver writes, “You do not have to walk on your knees, For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” Seriously? Does this mean I didn’t have to grind up and down that flesh-hungry mountain on snowshoes to find my “mysterious, unmapped zone”? Mary Oliver would probably say that I could discover beauty in the everyday world around me. But, no, on this day, I needed the mountain to shatter a deep silence, to shake the silence apart the way the wind knocks rime ice from evergreen needles and casts the shards into the howling spit of the storm.

 

Thank you to Eleanor Morse and my fellow writers in the Sudden Fiction group for sharing Mary Oliver with me at the moment I most needed it and to the staff of Saddleback Mountain for running a first-class ski area with the biggest heart I know.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner athttp://www.peaksislandpress.com.

Port City Poets on Peaks Island

Stone Boat Poetry presents PORT CITY POETS: Contemporary Poets Celebrate Portland, Maine on Thursday, August 7 at 7pm at 5th Maine Memorial Hall on Peaks Island.

Join us for an evening with not one, not two… twelve Portland area poets who will read original poems!

Featured: Linda Aldrich, Marcia F. Brown, Dennis Camire, Claire Hersom, Mihku Paul-Anderson, Jesse Mantsch, Pam Burr Smith, Bruce Spang, Martin Steingesser, Jim Glenn Thatcher, George VanDeventer, Anna Bat-Chai Wrobel.

Readings begin at 7 pm

Books by individual contributing poets, and the recent anthology will be available. Support the writers!

Light refreshments will be served. ****volunteers most welcome to bring some refreshments.****

Free and Open to the Public<Join us for an evening with not one, not two… twelve Portland area poets who will read .

<Join us for an evening with not one, not two… twelve Portland area poets who will read poetry event yet.
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Poet Chris Robley featured at Peaks Island’s Stone Boat Poetry

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Chris Robley album cover

Poet, songwriter, musician, and producer Chris Robley – with roots in the “other Portland” – is delivering his well-crafted work to appreciative audiences right here in our own (the first!) Portland these days. POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, Pacifica Literary Review, and Arsenic Lobster have all published Robley’s poetry. He won the Boulevard’s 2013 Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 Maine Literary Award for “Short Works Poetry.”

Read more about Chris and watch video clips of him performing his music at http://blog.chrisrobley.com and then come offer him a warm, island welcome.

Organizer Jesse Mantsch explains, “As always, we will have an open reading, so bring a poem of your own work or another’s to read, or come just to listen, that’s fine, too. And please bring food and/or something to drink, but if you don’t have something to bring, please come anyway. The words and voices are what we want the most.”

WEDNESDAY, JULY 9TH AT 7 PM

at Janii and Lawrence Mott’s workshop/boat shelter/ poetry venue/ pumphouse at the top of Elizabeth Street on Peaks Island.

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

 

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc visits Stone Boat Poetry on Peaks Island

Writer, teacher, and former Director of the Telling Room

"Pete" from Dryhead Ranch in Montana

“Pete” from Dryhead Ranch in Montana

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc visited Peaks Island’s Stone Boat Poetry gathering this week. Although I was not fortunate enough to join the group and hear him read, I took a moment to read a few of his poems. Having devoted years of my life to all things equestrian, I found “Rider Unhorsed” captivating. Preparing this post gave me the excuse to revisit the photos I took on a ranch in Montana. This looming horse muzzle seemed appropriate.

After you enjoy it, keep in mind that Stone Boat Poetry meets the first Wednesday evening of every month to celebrate a featured poet and host an open read.

Rider Unhorsed

First reeds at the pathside became vocal
then the dunes’ curve met the curvature
inside my eye. I saw Polaris become

five-pointed, and red pines closed the sky
as bluebells opened it. This is vision country.

As to where my horse is, my steed of good
deeds and satchel of bad lemons, or how

my head became a tuning fork in a thicket,
I’m too busy to answer. The alder’s summer

is speckled and short-stalked; the blackbird
parades its reds; nuthatches dangle down.

Linger with me; step out of your swivet.
Be mind-muddied a while, and temple-robbed.
Be lullabied by the music of far-off bells.

Copyright © 2006 Gibson Fay-LeBlanc All rights reserved
from Backwards City Review
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

Peaks Island Press offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of a vibrant, literary community perched on Peaks Island, two miles off the coast of the beautiful and award-winning city of Portland, Maine. If you haven’t already, you may subscribe in the upper right corner at http://www.peaksislandpress.com.

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